September 16, 2014

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  • Op-ed: New faces, old lies, same denial

    Hundreds of thousands of protesters congregated in Tahrir Square on Tuesday chanting the same slogans they did against Mubarak two years ago.

    BY ASMAA EL GAMMAL

    The morning after Tuesday’s massive demonstrations against President Mohamed Morsi’s recent constitutional declaration, the Freedom and Justice Party’s message was loud and clear: Tahrir is not to be taken seriously.

     

    On the front page of the party’s newspaper, the headline read: “Revolutionaries, folol (former regime remnants) and peddlers in Tahrir Square. Disregarding the chants of tens of thousands of protesters outraged by the President’s declaration of invincible powers, the FJP’s mouthpiece chose to focus on a handful of corn-sellers to suggest that it was nothing more than a gathering of revolution-haters and petty salesmen.

     

    A series of tweets by the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English-language account, @Ikhwanweb, carried the same message: “low protesters turnout today indicates lack of support among Egyptians unlike #Jan25.” They also added that the opposition should “brace for millions in support for the elected prez.”

     

    What the Brotherhood leadership was unwilling to acknowledge was that the last time local and international newspapers ran front-page photos of a fully-packed and euphoric Tahrir Square, it was February 2011. Then too, state media had reported that save for the power-hungry and foreign-funded Muslim Brotherhood, the square was empty. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the craftsmen behind the recycled rhetoric of the Mubarak regime could probably sue the Brotherhood for plagiarism.

     

    But to those who were willing to see it, Tahrir was a sight to be taken very seriously. Tens of thousands of Egyptians were pouring into the square from protest marches across the city, demanding the constitutional declaration be rescinded and accusing Morsi and the Brotherhood of being revolution sell-outs. The President’s declaration even provoked the participation of many “Couch Party” members, a term used to describe the silent majority, and others who for various reasons had never before shown an interest in protesting. To suggest that these massive protests should be dismissed because they enjoy the approval of some vocal supporters of the Mubarak regime is akin to suggesting that the revolution should be dismissed as a creation of the Brotherhood.

     

    So far, the presidency’s only response has been to reassure the public that the President’s invincible powers were only a temporary measure applicable to “sovereign matters”–a vague term that has yet to be defined clearly. In essence, the Egyptian public is being asked to trust the President’s good intentions in protecting the revolution. It seems that neither Morsi nor those who advised him to make this politically miscalculated decision stopped to consider how Egyptians can be expected to trust a President whose propaganda machine is spouting a deceptive rhetoric all too reminiscent of a regime they rose to topple less than two years ago.

     

    In the meantime, the only acknowledgement–albeit an unconscious one–of the significance of Tuesday’s protests was in yet another poorly calculated and potentially catastrophic decision by the Brotherhood and other Islamist parties to protest in Tahrir Square on Saturday. It appears that the Brotherhood leadership has recognized that the presidential palace, Cairo University, or any other protest location do not hold the same value as the symbolic heart of the revolution. Rather than protest elsewhere and risk being compared to pro-Mubarak and pro-military council supporters that once congregated in Mostafa Mahmoud Square and Abbasiya, they instead chose to show their numerical display of power at the very location where anti-Morsi protesters have already announced a sit-in and where violent clashes between the two opposing camps are much more likely.

    These kinds of decisions, while intended to prove that the President’s declaration is in fact “the will of the people”–a phrase that has of late been cheapened and misused to the point of exploitation–will do no more than complicate the political impasse, fuel the cycle of violence, and dig the presidency into a deeper hole.

     

    What President Morsi needs to remember is that not too long ago, his predecessor ignored demands that quickly escalated from “bread, freedom, and social justice” to “the people want to topple the regime.” And if he had been walking among the protesters on Tuesday, he would have heard the occasional chant of “leave, leave, leave.” While at this point the chant may just be a force of habit, recent history has shown that it can soon transform into the deafening sound of people who actually mean it.

     

    And that is something to be taken seriously.

    Asmaa El Gammal is a Cairo-based journalist and commentator. She holds an MSc in Population and Development from the London School of Economics.

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